Americans Remain Deeply Concerned about National Debt

Mar 28, 2017

Contact: Brian Bartlett
(202) 470-5340

The March 2017 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 57 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK — Voters continue to be deeply concerned about the national debt, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s March Fiscal Confidence Index, a monthly measure of public attitudes about the nation’s long-term debt and the efforts elected leaders are making to address America’s fiscal challenges. The Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 57 (100 is neutral), indicating that voters are calling on policymakers to prioritize fiscal solutions as a key part of the policy agenda.

Voters are more likely this month to say the country is currently on the wrong track in addressing the problem (51% wrong track, compared to 47% in February), while a slim majority remain optimistic about progress on the issue in the next few years (53% optimistic/40% pessimistic). Nevertheless, voters clearly want action in Washington as more than three-quarters (77%) say that the President and Congress should be spending more time addressing the debt.

“As policymakers consider reforms in a number of important areas, a consensus of voters agree that our unsustainable fiscal outlook requires immediate action,” said Michael A. Peterson, President and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. “Americans want the national debt to be a central part of the policy agenda because they understand that putting our fiscal house in order will help build a foundation for a growing, thriving economy. The national debt is the one issue that affects all the others.”

The Fiscal Confidence Index measures public opinion about the national debt by asking six questions in three key areas:

  • CONCERN: Level of concern and views about the direction of the national debt.
  • PRIORITY: How high a priority addressing the debt should be for elected leaders.
  • EXPECTATIONS: Expectations about whether the debt situation will get better or worse in the next few years.

The survey results from these three areas are weighted equally and averaged to produce the Fiscal Confidence Index value. The Fiscal Confidence Index, like the Consumer Confidence Index, is indexed on a scale of 0 to 200, with a neutral midpoint of 100. A reading above 100 indicates positive sentiment. A reading below 100 indicates negative sentiment.

Fiscal Confidence Index Key Data Points:

  • The March 2017 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 57 . (The February value was 60 and the January value was 67.)
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 50, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 31, indicating that Americans want elected leaders to make addressing long-term debt a high priority. The score for EXPECTATIONS about progress on the debt is 90. The Fiscal Confidence Index is the average of these three sub-category scores.
  • For a description of the complete methodology, see the Appendix below.

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation commissioned a poll by the Global Strategy Group and North Star Opinion Research to survey public opinion on the national debt. The nationwide poll included 1,004 U.S. registered voters, surveyed by telephone between March 20 and March 23, 2017. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%. The poll examined voters’ opinions on the national debt, political leadership, and America’s fiscal and economic health.

Detailed poll results can be found online at:

About the Peter G. Peterson Foundation

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the nature and urgency of key fiscal challenges threatening America's future, and to accelerating action on them. To address these challenges successfully, we work to bring Americans together to find and implement sensible, long-term solutions that transcend age, party lines and ideological divides in order to achieve real results. To learn more, please visit

APPENDIX: Fiscal Confidence Index Methodology and Questions

  • The Fiscal Confidence Index is released monthly by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.
  • The Fiscal Confidence Index value is based on six questions in three categories.
  • As is done with the Consumer Confidence Index, the first step in calculating the Fiscal Confidence Index is determining the “Relative Value” for each question. This calculation is made by taking the positive response for each question and dividing it by the sum of the positive and negative responses. Each question was asked on a four-point scale, and answers were weighted according to intensity, with the strongest responses counting twice as much as the middle responses (“much” better or worse answers count twice as heavily as “somewhat” better or worse answers).
  • The scores for the Concern, Priority, and Expectations categories are determined by averaging the scores derived from the two questions in each category.
  • The Fiscal Confidence Index value is converted from the Relative Value to place it on a scale on which 100 indicates equal positive and negative sentiment, while values below 100 indicate negative sentiment and values above 100 indicate positive sentiment.
  • The questions are as follows:


Thinking about our national debt over the last few years, would you say your level of concern has increased or decreased?
◊ Is that a lot or just a little?
March 2017 February 2017 January 2017
Increased a lot 44% 45% 40%
Increased a little 20% 22% 23%
Decreased a little 9% 9% 10%
Decreased a lot 5% 6% 8%
(No change) 20% 16% 19%
(Don't Know/Refused) 2% 2% 2%
INCREASED (NET) 65% 67% 62%
DECREASED (NET) 13% 15% 18%
When it comes to addressing our national debt, would you say things in the United States are heading in the right direction or do you think things are off on the wrong track?
◊ Do you feel that way strongly or just somewhat?
March 2017 February 2017 January 2017
Right direction-Strongly 16% 16% 15%
Right direction-Somewhat 17% 17% 22%
Wrong track-Somewhat 14% 14% 17%
Wrong track-Strongly 37% 33% 24%
(Neither/Mixed) 8% 10% 13%
(Don't Know/Refused) 8% 10% 10%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 51% 47% 41%
Some people say that addressing the national debt should be among the president and Congress' top 3 priorities. Do you agree or disagree?
◊ Do you feel that way strongly or just somewhat?
March 2017 February 2017 January 2017
Strongly agree 49% 51% 47%
Somewhat agree 25% 22% 27%
Somewhat disagree 13% 11% 12%
Strongly disagree 9% 9% 9%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 6% 5%
AGREE (NET) 74% 73% 74%
DISAGREE (NET) 22% 21% 21%
And when it comes to our national debt, do you think it is an issue that the president and Congress should spend more time addressing or less time addressing?
◊ Would you say a lot (more or less) time or just a little?
March 2017 February 2017 January 2017
A lot more time 51% 55% 51%
A little more time 25% 25% 29%
A little less time 6% 6% 5%
A lot less time 4% 3% 4%
(The same amount of time) 7% 5% 5%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 6% 6%
MORE TIME (NET) 77% 80% 80%
LESS TIME (NET) 11% 9% 9%
And thinking about our national debt over the next few years, do you expect the problem to get better or worse?
◊ Is that much (better or worse) or just somewhat (better or worse)?
March 2017 February 2017 January 2017
Much better 14% 16% 13%
Somewhat better 20% 20% 31%
Somewhat worse 21% 22% 21%
Much worse 35% 29% 24%
(No change) 4% 5% 4%
(Don't know/Refused) 5% 8% 7%
BETTER (NET) 34% 36% 44%
WORSE (NET) 56% 51% 45%
And when it comes to our national debt, are you optimistic or pessimistic that the United States will be able to make progress on our national debt over the next few years?
◊ Would you say you are very (optimistic or pessimistic) or just somewhat?
March 2017 February 2017 January 2017
Very optimistic 24% 28% 26%
Somewhat optimistic 29% 26% 33%
Somewhat pessimistic 16% 14% 16%
Very pessimistic 23% 23% 16%
(Neither/Mixed) 4% 6% 5%
(Don't Know/Refused) 3% 4% 3%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 53% 53% 59%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 40% 36% 32%

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